Time to return to our favorite new annual tradition, the listing of our favorite movie costumes of the year. We’ve been writing about costume design for nearly as long as we’ve been writing about red carpets and in many ways, it’s a topic more near and dear to our hearts than fashion. As with our annual Favorite Red Carpet Looks list, you shouldn’t necessarily look at this as a declaration of the best costume design of the year. This isn’t a countdown. It’s an idiosyncratic lineup of those costumes that really stood out to us this year for being dramatic, for revealing character details, for underlining story points, and just for being all-around memorable and entertaining to look at. This list is slightly shorter than last year’s (ten costumes instead of 15), but we like to think that’s due to our criteria becoming more narrow and more in tune with our own tastes, rather than any commentary about the movie industry itself (although we do think fantasy, sci-fi, and superhero design has gone pretty stale of late). Anyway, let’s get to it, shall we?
Margot Robbie in BARBIE
Costumes Designed by Jacqueline Durran
We’re kicking things off with what may seem like the most obvious choice, but the problem with Barbie is that the film never served up a costume that wasn’t worthy of being on this list. To prevent this from becoming an extravaganza of Barbie costumes (a topic for which we already wrote up our best piece of the year), we settled on this one, largely because it’s the most illustrative of Barbie’s mindset at this point. In Barbie Land, her clothes were all bespoke and prepared for her. This outfit, while completely Barbie in tone and style, is a cheap costume she bought in order to fit in in the real world. The irony is, of course, that she still looks exactly like a Barbie, albeit one in a slightly dingy, not perfectly fitted outfit that comes off tacky and sad instead of empowering and affirming, like all of her Barbie clothes.
Tom Hanks in ASTEROID CITY
Costumes Designed by Milena Canonero
Quite simply, he is hope embodied. Like almost all of the visual elements in a Wes Anderson film, there is nothing subtle about the costume design and what it’s saying. To be fair, Asteroid City is awash in production and costume design in eye-searing colors (Hanks’ costume picks up on and elevates the film’s dominant turquoise/yellow color motif), but Hanks’ character Stanley is introduced in a split-screen conversation with his grieving son-in-law Augie (Jason Schwartzman), who spends the film in a beige khaki safari jacket and pants, which illustrates not only how each of them are dealing with their grief differently, but also shows that one of them is a working man who’s burying himself in his career and the other one is retired and clearly enjoying the fruits of his labor. He comes to the rescue of his late daughter’s family, acknowledges their pain, and helps them to find a path forward. It’s no coincidence that his arrival comes with a sign reading “CLEAR VISION AHEAD.” As for the gun, it’s less about denoting a sense of menace (although he’s clearly in a dominance struggle with his son-in-law) as an illustration that everyone processes their pain differently and his more direct, “get it out and get it over with” approach can be summed up by his love of shooting things.
Halle Bailey in THE LITTLE MERMAID
Costumes Designed by Colleen Atwood
Legendary costume designer Colleen Atwood wisely opted not to mimic or recreate every one of the cartoon costumes drawn for Ariel in the animated version of The Little Mermaid released in 1989. Atwood ditched the cartoon’s Euro-tinged dirndl-inspired day dress for the newly be-footed mermaid and put Bailey in this ocean blue cotton organza dress with multiple tiers and ruffles, which makes it move and sway as she walks, just like her mermaid tail. Realizing the significance of Bailey’s casting in this part, Atwood interpreted the style from early 19th century dresses worn by Caribbean women and wrapped Bailey’s six-figure locs in a coral pink shimmering headband with a motif evoking fish scales. We love how incredibly detailed this costume is. Unlike a typical Disney Princess costume, it gets more complicated and interesting the longer you look at it.
Amie Donald in M3GAN
Costumes Designed by Daniel Cruden
One of the things we’ve wrestled with in the years we’ve been writing about costumes is whether or not we should be including digital and animated costume designs on lists like this one. We’re not quite there yet, because we still prefer to talk about physical clothing that was either made or purchased for specific characters, but we know that costume design, like everything else you see on film these days, is subject to a lot of digital enhancing, which means we’re going to have to eventually start talking about how digital costumes are designed and work. But that’s an essay for another day. For now, we’re dipping our toes in the water by including a costume that isn’t worn by a human character. We might normally consider M3GAN more of a prop, but the fact remains that her already iconic performance was delivered by human actors Amie Donald and Jenna Davis, and her costume functions exactly like that of a living, breathing person (as opposed to, say, a typical haunted doll character like Annabelle). This costume works brilliantly because it evokes toddlerhood and young girlhood (the striped shirt, white tights, and beige dress) but also has an odd matronly feel because of that incongruous pussy bow. The effect is unsettling, made even moreso when she pairs everything with a brown satin trench coat that tends to give her a bit of a badass undertone. Sibling, playmate, caregiver, mother figure, badass – all in one unsettlingly bland costume.
Taraji P. Henson in THE COLOR PURPLE
Costumes Designed by Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
We wrote about the meanings and undertones found in Shug Avery’s juke joint costume in the original The Color Purple, so at first, we weren’t inclined to include this one on our yearly list, largely because it tends to serve as one of the new film’s more direct visual homages to the original. But in the 2023 film, Shug’s juke joint scene, like a lot of the creative choices by director Blitz Bazawule, has a distinctly and possibly even defiantly different undertone than Spielberg’s version. The original costume and scene told a story of a woman who’d “seen a lot of suns going down.” Her glory days were behind her, she was barely recovered from a serious illness, she had a terrible reputation, and her seemingly once spectacular career had faded to the point where she was singing in the swamp. She used the moment to perform a song she wrote for Celie, declaring her sisterhood with her and letting her know that she sees her. Well. That is decidedly NOT the undertone to Taraji’s version of the scene, which instead has her entering the joint dramatically and then almost literally tearing the roof off with the raunchy, empowering, and outrageously confident “Bush Da Button.” Bazawule made all of the sisterly connections and undertones of the story much more overt and chose to tell a story of empowerment and Black womanhood, rather than succumbing to Spielberg’s more melodrama-focused version, which focused on their pain and victimhood. To bring this back to the costume design, we ask you to compare it more closely to the original and note all of the ways Francine Jamison-Tanchuck ramped up the feeling of glamour and luxury, wealth and power. The feathers are not just bigger, they’re huge. There’s more sparkle, she’s trimmed in fur and velvet. Everything is exquisitely fitted and matched, unlike the original version. This is no down-on-her-luck showgirl. This is a queen in her raiment arriving triumphantly to court. Cleopatra on her barge.
More to come in Part TWO!
[Photo Credit: Giles Keyte/Walt Disney Studios, Courtesy of Disney, Ser Baffo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures, Focus Features]
TLO’s Favorite Red Carpet Looks of 2023, Part THREE Next Post:
T Lo’s Favorite Red Carpet Looks of 2023, Part FOUR
Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. Thank you!